Preseason Game 34 – Canadiens 6, Maple Leafs 4

Preseason Game 34
Canadiens 6, Maple Leafs 4
Thursday, September 26, 1996
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

Perhaps, in their minds, there’s some redeeming qualities to the effort put forth last night by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That yes, they played disgracefully in the first period, but they came together during the last 40 minutes to outscore the Montréal Canadiens 4-0 in the second and third periods. And, but for a disallowed goal and a couple of missed scoring chances, the Leafs could have tied the score.

That shouldn’t cut any ice with their fans, as the net result was still a 6-4 National Hockey League preseason loss to the Canadiens at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The Canadiens could throw in a few qualifiers of their own. Such as putting the game in cruise control once they went up 6-0 after 11 minutes in the first period. Or that they started giving a lot of ice time to players who likely won’t be around when the regular season starts.

No, the net result of this game for the fans is the realization that this edition of the Leafs is still a long way from being able to compete with the elite teams of the NHL.

As for what the Leaf players make of their effort last night, that’s difficult to say. Not many of them wanted to leave the sanctuary of their lounge to explain themselves to their fans.

The players lounge is a new prerequisite this year, being constructed during the summer as part of the renovation of the team’s dressing room. Cynics said its true purpose is to give a fading team another place to hide from the media, which tends to ask annoying questions such as “how can you take millions of dollars a year in wages and stand around leaning on your stick all night?”

If the Leafs’ performance last night is any indication, the off-limits-to-the-media lounge is going to be the hide and seek capital of Canada this season.

“I guess you can say a lot of things,” said Leaf captain Doug Gilmour, one of the few to venture into the dressing room. “The first 11 minutes (of the game) were ugly and embarrassing.

“We wanted to come back out and win the last two periods. That was our goal.”

It was a goal that didn’t impress their coach much.

“Even though (the final score) was 6-4, Montréal had their engines shut down after 11 minutes in the first period,” Mike Murphy said. “I’m smart enough to know that. I hope the guys in (the players lounge) are smart enough to know that.”

What’s worrisome for Leaf aficionados is not so much that they are 0-5-1 in preseason games, or that the heroes are slower than a government bureaucrat asked to cough up a child support payment. It’s in something Murphy said in reference to the Leafs’ dreary, 1-1 tie with the Buffalo Sabres in their previous outing.

“Some guys came out (last night) with their heads in the clouds,” he said. “Some guys here may not be able to handle success. Now that’s scary because there’s 82 games in a season.”

We think Murphy meant it’s scary that some players would consider a 1-1 tie with the Sabres, another mediocre team, some sort of success.

Another problem for Leaf fans is that their heroes spent the previous couple of days talking about how important this game was, even if it was still the preseason. We’re dressing almost all of our veterans, the story went, so people can get a true picture of how we look.

By the end of the first period, this picture was twisted and depressing.

Both the Leaf defence and the forwards looked rooted to their spots as the Canadiens took turns buzzing goaltender Félix Potvin. The crowd had turned on Potvin by the fourth goal, but it wasn’t his fault. Indeed, without Potvin, who faced 24 shots in the first period, the score could easily have been 9-0 going into the second period.

Saku Koivu, Benoît Brunet, Pierre Turgeon, Valeri Bure, Mark Recchi and Turner Stevenson scored for Montréal in the opening 11 minutes. Gilmour, Mathieu Schneider, Mats Sundin and Jamie Heward produced the Leaf goals.

NOTES: The Leafs had a couple more injuries last night. Forward Mark Kolesar left with a strained shoulder muscle, and defenceman Dave Ellett was knocked out of the game with a strained muscle in his upper back.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, September 27, 1996

1st Period
MTL GOAL – 01:21 – Koivu

MTL GOAL – 01:56 – Brunet (Recchi)
TOR PEN – 02:11 – Domi, minor + major + misconduct
MTL PEN – 02:11 – Ryan, major
TOR PEN – 02:11 – Schneider
MTL PP GOAL – 02:21 – Turgeon (Malakhov, Richer)
MTL PEN – 02:21 – Rucinsky, minor + major + misconduct
TOR PEN – 02:21 – Zettler, major
TOR PEN – 04:01 – Craig
MTL PP GOAL – 05:34 – Bure (Koivu, Savage)
MTL GOAL – 08:00 – Recchi (Turgeon, Savage)
MTL GOAL – 11:02 – Stevenson (Recchi, Turgeon)

MTL PEN – 11:52 – Popovich
TOR PEN – 14:14 – Pearson
MTL PEN – 14:14 – Brown, major
TOR PEN – 15:00 – Muller
TOR PEN – 15:42 – Warriner
TOR PEN – 17:53 – Muller, double minor
MTL PEN – 17:53 – Stevenson, minor + major + misconduct
TOR PEN – 17:53 – Zettler, major
TOR PEN – 20:00 – Gilmour

2nd Period
MTL PEN – 05:00 – Koivu, double minor
TOR PEN – 05:00 – Sundin
TOR PP GOAL – 06:27 – Gilmour (Fairchild, Marois)
MTL PEN – 08:12 – Rucinsky
TOR GOAL – 18:22 – Schneider (Clark, Sundin)

3rd Period
TOR GOAL – 02:06 – Sundin (Fairchild, Ware)

MTL PEN – 02:39 – Wilkie, holding
MTL PEN – 02:39 – Brown, roughing
TOR PP2 GOAL – 03:40 – Heward (Schneider, Sundin)
MTL PEN – 13:16 – Groleau, interference
MTL PEN – 16:10 – Groleau, tripping

MTL – Thibault (W, 42-46)
TOR – Potvin (L, 37-43)

MTL – 24+13+6 = 43
TOR – 9+18+19 = 46